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Sharks steps from rallying to win conference finals

by Dave Lozo
VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Whenever a team is facing a 3-1 series deficit like the San Jose Sharks are against the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference Finals, players will say they have to just win one game, not three.

While that's the best way to go about it for the players, it's OK for us to speculate on what it will take for the Sharks to win three straight games and earn a trip their first Stanley Cup Final.

The Sharks have lost three of four to the Canucks and six of eight going back to their conference semifinal series against the Red Wings, but they have some reasons for hope against the Canucks. They've held leads in three games, including both contests at Rogers Arena, and in Game 4 the Sharks held the Canucks to just eight shots at 5-on-5.

But it's going to take a lot more than that if the Sharks are going to become the third team to rally from a 3-1 series deficit in a conference final. Actually, it's going to take these seven things to vanquish the Presidents' Trophy-winning Canucks.

1. Antti Niemi must be flawless -- That's not to say he has to have three shutouts to close the series, although that would do the trick. Instead, Niemi has to become the confident goaltender who stops everything he sees and controls rebounds. On most of the goals in this series with the Canucks, he's been hung out to dry by his teammates. If he gets some support, there's no reason why Niemi can't string together three consecutive strong games.

2. Dany Heatley must score 3 goals -- It's no secret that Heatley has struggled during the playoffs. He has just 3 goals in 17 games this year and in his career, the player who has reached 39 goals in the regular season six times has just 15 goals in 65 playoff games. To beat a team as good as the Canucks, the Sharks need their best players to be at their best. If Heatley, who was demoted to the third line in Game 4, can register a total of 3 goals the rest of the way, it will go a long way toward helping the Sharks make history.

3. No drop-off in Joe Thornton -- The extent of the injury Thornton suffered in Game 4 remains a mystery, but it must be at least somewhat serious if the Sharks' captain couldn't return for the final 10 minutes. But at this stage of the season, it can't matter. Thornton is the Sharks' best player and leader, and any dip in his play will doom the team. If Thornton has the type of injury where it's about pain threshold, then Thornton needs to reach down deep, tough it out, and carry his team to the next round.

4. Score one power-play goal in each game -- The Sharks have had their share of trouble at 5-on-5 in this series. They've scored just five goals at even strength, and three of them have come during the end of Sharks' blowout losses. The best way to overcome those problems is by scoring on the power play. The Sharks are 7-2 when scoring a power-play goal in the playoffs and 2-6 when they don't. A consistent contribution from the power play is an absolute necessity.

5. Hold the Canucks to 12 or fewer power plays -- On the flip side of the special-teams battle in this series, the Canucks' power play is 9-for-23. That's a lot of goals on very few chances. So it appears the only way the Sharks are going to stop the Canucks' power play is by keeping it off the ice. The Sharks need three full games worth of discipline in the worst way.

6. One unexpected hero must step up -- Remember Benn Ferriero's overtime goal in Game 1 against the Red Wings? No one picked him in their game-winning goal pool entering that game, yet that goal led to a victory in a seven-game series won by the Sharks. Maybe it doesn't have to be that unexpected in this series, but someone like Torrey Mitchell, who hasn't registered a point in eight games, or perhaps a fourth-liner like Jamie McGinn, needs to make a major impact.

7. One terrible effort from the enemy -- Even if all of the above happens, it won't be enough. The Canucks are too good to lose three in a row if they play three solid games. That's why at some point in the next three games, the Canucks need to be an error-prone club, or lack energy, or just have goaltender Roberto Luongo let in some bad goals. The hole the Sharks have dug for themselves is so deep that unless the Canucks throw them a rope, Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final undoubtedly will be at Rogers Arena.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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